10to19 Friends & Partners on challenges in the community during COVID-19

Objective

This is an extremely difficult time that we are facing personally, in the communities we work with and in our organizations. We this realization, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborate felt the responsibility to resonate the need for connection, coordination, and camaraderie. Thus, the Friends & Partners Meet on May 19, 2021 was a first step in this direction — to bring together some nonprofit organizations as a community and network, in a virtual space, to share challenges, struggles, and create a space to openly share, listen and learn.

The objective of this free-flowing, no-agenda session was simply to create a space where we could manage some of the isolation and helplessness all of us are feeling currently, with the hope that coming together, and sharing would help us better understand our role in responding to the impact of these times on the people and communities we serve.

Participants

The Friends and Partners Meet was attended by 12 organizations from across the country with varied focus and demographic interests, who also shared with each other how are they currently responding to the ongoing second surge of the pandemic.

Key Highlights and Learnings

This session was an opportunity for attending organizations to share their experiences of the ongoing crisis and to share, openly, the various challenges that they are currently facing. The session began with initial series of polls with the organizations highlighted the stark reality of organizational and financial health in the current scenario. 

The polls revealed that organizations have put in place mechanisms for flexibility to ensure their employees are being supported, and have been encouraged by funders to do so. They have also had to significantly pivot their ongoing programs and a majority of attendees feel that they will be grappling with the consequences of COVID on their programs for up to 12 months. Details of the poll results can be seen below: 

Additionally, key themes that emerged from the conversations include:

Organizational Challenges:

  • Limited on-ground mobility: The imposition of new lockdowns and rising cases have meant that field staff is no longer able to visit communities to gauge the on-ground scenario or ensure programs continue to be delivered. They are also unable to support communities through the growing fear and anxiety as the situation further compounds.
  • The lack of strategic clarity: Organizations shared that emergency responses resulted in a loss of clarity for long-term strategic and organizational goals. Existing projects have been paused and for many, core areas of work – such as SRHR – have taken a backseat to immediate on-ground relief efforts. 
  • The impact on organizational staff: Particularly for those organizations conducting immediate relief efforts, the toll of the past few weeks has been immediate and intense. Team members are facing immense pressure of responding to the situation while themselves dealing with illnesses and grief caused by Covid. This has had a significant impact on their mental well-being, and has required organizations to respond proactively and with compassion towards their own employees.

Challenges on the ground:

  • The need for medical support: The most urgent emerging issue is the lack of medical resources and support particularly in remote and rural communities. These areas are unable to rely on existing public healthcare systems and are disconnected from social media, which has been critical to providing relief supplies at the last mile.  
  • The impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups: Marginalized or vulnerable communities were and continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic as well as by lockdowns and income loss. Women and girls have also lost access to safe spaces and community support, as well as access to education. They are also experiencing the significant mental toll of isolation, along with anxiety, and, in many cases, grief of the loss of a loved one.  
  • Income loss and poverty: Organizations have also noted an increase in reverse migration and loss of employment among communities that they serve, which has plunged many young people and their families into poverty. As a result, they are also anticipating a rise in cases of malnutrition and anemia. 
  • Disruption of on-ground services: Service provision at the last mile continues to be a challenge. Particularly in rural areas, organizations shared that frontline workers and teachers were among those affected. They are therefore unable to provide essential last-mile services and remain unable to address newer emerging issues such as vaccine hesitancy either. 
  • Lack of accurate data and evidence: Several organizations also stated that there is no clear picture of the current on-ground situation — the impact of Covid on health and the impact of the pandemic on other aspects of life — making it difficult to gauge and analyze the full impact of the second wave on communities. 
  • Vaccine awareness and access: Access to and awareness of the vaccine is limited on the ground. Vaccine hesitancy is prominent and even those who are willing to get vaccinated are often unable to access it due to limited and inaccessible supply. While one organization began a vaccine drive, the uptake continues to remain slow, especially in rural and remote areas. 
  • Possibility of a third wave: While organizations are responding to the immediate on-ground situation, they are also trying to plan for a third wave, anticipated later this year. They are unsure how to account for it, ensuring that they incorporate learnings and lessons from the current situation as well as keep a long-term view on youth-focused indicators. 
  • Providing and ensuring the availability of medical support in rural and remote areas
  • Ensuring consistent and ongoing investment into health, nutrition, particularly for young women and girls 
  • Identifying sustainable and scalable solutions to address mental and emotional health, both for communities and for organizations
  • Centering youth voices to understand how the situation will evolve
  • Collecting data from the field, to understand the impact of the crisis on communities and to replan priorities
  • Pushing for investments to provide technological and infrastructural support, especially for rural communities, to address growing challenges in spaces such as education, healthcare provision and employability
  • Amplifying and listening to young people
  • Addressing mental health and well-being
  • Articulating a collaborative response to the pandemic 
  • Re-thinking sector priorities for the long and short term
  • Breaking the digital divide

Needs and Future Priorities 

Based on the insights from the conversations, the following areas have emerged as being critical needs in the months to come, including:

Organizations also highlighted the value of these conversations through platforms like the Friends & Partners Meet, sharing themes and issues that would continue to remain relevant in the future, and would benefit from similar open conversations in the future. These issues ranged from immediate to longer-term goals, focusing on engaging young people and equipping them to survive the pandemic, to understanding where the sector is moving and identifying priority areas. Other key themes include: 

Next Steps

This session was a first step towards understanding the many challenges that the sector and our partners are currently facing, in light of the second wave. The conversation highlighted not only several key priority areas, but also the need for a coordinated and shared response from stakeholders across the sector to ensure that we are able to protect and support our communities. 

It is clear that we will need to continue pushing to prioritize the well-being of each other and the communities we serve. We will also explore how to better utilize this space and come together again to further discuss the critical themes that emerged from this initial discussion. Meanwhile, the Collaborative will continue this series of consultations with various stakeholder groups, including members of our 10to19 Community of Practice. Our next consultations will be held on Tuesday, June 1st and Thursday, June 3rd, and will be open to all.